Canadian First Nations to deliver message to Obama

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WASHINGTON – Following the centuries-long tradition of delegations of American Indians traveling to nation’s capitol to meet the “Great White Father,” a group of Canadian indigenous leaders plan to seek the support from President-elect Barack Obama on oil and human rights issues.

Chiefs from Canada’s First Nations will be traveling to Washington Jan. 8, just days before the inauguration of the new president. They want Obama to apply international pressure on Canada – the largest supplier of crude oil to the U.S. – to share resource wealth with the indigenous people of Canada.

Leaders from the seven First Nations of Treaty One recently announced their decision to make the voyage. Treaty One’s territory is composed of 16,700 square miles, directly in the path of both Enbridge and TransCanada pipelines. The pipelines are currently being constructed through Treaty One lands without any prior approval by the indigenous people of the region.

“We hope that President-elect Obama will embrace the attitude of respect, compassion and support by engaging in the accountability of equitable and fair trade between the United States, Indian nations and the Canadian government,” said Glenn Hudson, chief of the Peguis First Nation and a spokesman for Treaty One.

During Obama’s campaign, he raised concerns about “dirty oil” from Canada and made positive statements on a new relationship with Native America.

Hudson said that indigenous concerns in Canada are heightened, especially because Canada is the largest foreign supplier of oil to the United States.

“America needs to purchase 14 million barrels of foreign oil every day, and maintaining a steady supply of oil is a national security issue for the U.S,” Hudson said.

“So far, Canada pays little or no royalties to indigenous people for resources that flow from our territories. … We are the rightful owners of this land and resources. That’s the message we want to send loud and clear.”

An emergency resolution at the national Assembly of First Nations during a December summit in Ottawa was scheduled to focus on such concerns. The AFN is the national political representative of 633 First Nations in Canada.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, more than 80 percent of all Canadian exports flow to the U.S. Canada remained the largest exporter to the U.S. of total petroleum in September, exporting 2.364 million barrels per day.

Two major pipelines, the Enbridge Alberta Clipper and the TransCanada Keystone Project, being constructed through three provinces are expected by 2012 to carry an additional 1.9 million barrels of oil per day to the U.S.

The two pipelines are of great importance to American energy needs given the increasing instability of other foreign sources of oil. Canada supplies the United States with 65 percent more oil per day than Saudi Arabia.

In September, two blockades by First Nations in the Province of Saskatchewan sent controversy through the industry as construction was halted for four and six days at two pipeline sites.

Chief Barry Kennedy of Carry the Kettle First Nation and Chief Sheldon Wuttunee of Red Pheasant First Nation in Saskatchewan organized the blockades. The First Nations are currently in negotiations with the pipeline owners.

For their Washington visit, Treaty One leaders are sending invitations to chiefs from all three prairie provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Invites will also go to British Columbia where First Nations are fighting the proposed Gateway Pipeline. Gateway plans to pipe oil to the Pacific to be sent on ocean tankers to China and the western United States.

First Nations leaders are also sending invitations to four tribes from North and South Dakota. The Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, the Rosebud Sioux, Santee Sioux and Yankton Sioux Tribes recently launched a U.S. lawsuit to stop the TransCanada pipeline.

Hudson said that the Native groups also want to highlight Canadian indigenous land concerns to Obama. While the United States recognizes property in its Bill of Rights and recognizes treaties as the “law of the land” in its constitution, Canada omits indigenous property rights in its Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Further, First Nations leaders said they would like to re-visit the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights with the new president. The U.S. and Canada both voted against it in Sept. 2007.

The Canadian government took issue with Article 19 of the resolution, which would require governments to secure the consent of indigenous peoples regarding matters of general public policy; and Articles 26 and 28, which could allow for the re-opening or repudiation of historically settled land claims.

In the United States’ rejection of the resolution, the government highlighted the declaration’s failure to provide a clear definition of exactly whom the term “indigenous peoples” intends to cover.